Review of War and Dislocation: A Neuroanthropological Model of Trauma among American Veterans with Combat PTSD (Erin Finley)
by Jennifer Fortunato
In chapter 10 of The Encultured Brain, the author of the chapter, Erin Finley, writes about how trauma evolves into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by focusing on six variables that are implicated in this experience: cultural environment, stress, horror, dislocation, grief, and cultural mediators. The author starts off the chapter by describing what trauma is. They describe trauma as beginning with sensory and perceptual experience of danger that may or may not come as a shock. To understand how trauma morphs into PTSD, the author states that we need to look not just at one aspect or use of definition of PTSD but integrate biological, social, physiological and cultural factors into our understanding of the disease.
Finley then starts to delve into the six variables of the PTSD experience. The first variable cultural experience which takes into account local social structure, patterns of kin relationships, historical and political context, physical environment and local worldviews and norms. Finley emphasizes that the cultural experience plays a critical role in the experience of trauma. PTSD is characterized by hyperarousal, reexperiencing, and avoidance or numbing all of which can be stigmatized by others.
The next variable of stress is discussed in the cultural context. Where soldiers who have extended combat experience have a rewiring of the stress experience due to time spent under intense and potentially life-threatening conditions. This is exemplified in veterans returning from deployment who describe their responses to stimuli as having unprecedented vigilance. Finley then describes research related to this and concludes that it is normal for those who experience a highly stressful environment for a long while to adapt to that way of living and for it to remain after returning to safety. Understanding cultural differences in the stress response might provide a way to understand how individuals respond to stressful events.
The third variable, horror, is the one that is most likely to reemerge as a recurrent nightmare and/or intrusive memories. Finley describes horror as an emotion so powerful that it can overwhelm an individual’s capacity for immediate sense-making or cognitive processing. Those with PTSD may not recover without intervention from outside help. Horror can be understood in the cultural context as a challenge to deeply held beliefs about the self and world that may pose a painful challenge to individual identity.
Dislocation, the fourth variable, is an estrangement from those around you, an earlier mode of perception, from feeling at home in the world or sense of self. Veterans can have an emotional flattening of their emotions where the way that they react to the world around them has diminished. Biologically, stressed brains will bypass cognitive thinking to go immediately to rapid action and response. This can be shaped by an individual’s personal history and cultural expectations of themselves. Veterans may respond in ways that are culturally appropriate, however, the way in which they do so may not be appropriate. This may in turn further alienate them from close friends and family. However, how the friends and family perceive these responses by veterans to stimuli can reduce this alienation.
The next variable, grief, is a part of a natural mourning process when losing someone close to you. Veterans may feel a sense of personal responsibility for the death of a fellow soldier or even for surviving the same event that killed another soldier. Grief can also result from a loss of self or norms after returning to civilian life. These losses whether tangible, like loss of a life, or intangible, like loss of the sense of self, can exacerbate senses of grief in veterans.
The last variable is cultural mediators. This is the role of cultural tools and processes to help mediate the relationship of the other trauma variables. This can be best understood through evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy which has been proven to reduce trauma symptoms over a long period of time. Cognitive behavioral therapy can assist in helping veterans return to civilian life and manage symptoms of PTSD and the, often accompanying, symptoms of anxiety and depression. Having other ways to express emotion can help in reducing dislocation and stress. Also, social support is critical in helping reduce the experience of trauma. Social support can be found in kin relationships, support groups for survivors, and personal role models.
Finley ends the chapter with a section on the neuroanthropological view of trauma and how it can assist in understanding PTSD. Neuroanthropology can facilitate the comparison of trauma responses across cultural contexts to better understand the relationship between culture and trauma. It can also help us understand the relationship between cognitive and neurophysiological responses to trauma. Using neuroanthropology as an interdisciplinary framework for understanding PTSD and trauma can help us find more meaningful, focused, and effective ways for understanding PTSD.
My questions for the class are:
1. Early in the chapter, Finley mentions that this discussion is solely based on the experiences of male combat veterans and that the inclusion of female combat veterans is an important missing factor. Do you think the analysis of trauma and PTSD would change? How so?
2. How would you design a study to look at trauma from a neuroanthropological view? How would a more laboratory-focused and a more ethnographic-focused study differ?
Review of Amato, "Incorporating the Gut Microbiota Into Models of Human and Non-Human Primate Ecology and Evolution"
by Jennifer Fortunato
In this paper the author, Dr. Katherine Amato, discusses the relevance of the gut microbiota to the ecology and evolution of humans and non-human primates. Amato initially discusses how the gut microbiome is an important, yet understudied, factor in biological models, including humans and non-human primates. This paper suggests that researchers should incorporate the gut microbiome into their research to expand our perspective on and test the importance of the gut microbiome in human ecology and evolution. It does so by first reviewing current knowledge about the gut microbiome and its evolutionary role, then discusses the multitude of possible impacts that the gut microbiome can have on diet, energetics, disease resistance and cognition while also suggesting areas of future research.
The initial part of this paper discusses the relevance of gut microbiome interactions in early development, the physiology of the body, and diet and nutrition. In early mammal development, the initial establishment of the gut microbiome is during and after birth, through horizontal transfer from the vaginal microbiota and social interactions with the mother and vertical transmission through breast milk, from mother to offspring. Genotype plays a role in the type of microbiota in an individual. For example, monozygotic twins have more similar gut microbiota even after living apart than couples who live together. Yet, the abundance of microbes is primarily driven by diet and physiology. Changes in nutrients can change the abundances of certain taxa of microbes. However, the microbiome can affect what the host eats based of the ability of the microbiota to digest certain compounds. For example, since vertebrates lack the enzyme to digest cellulose it is left for the microbes in your gut to be able to digest it into usable substances. The gut microbiome also interacts with physiology. It can interact with the immune system by reducing inflammation and increasing immune responses to pathogens. The gut microbiome can also interact with the endocrine and nervous system where hormones such as dopamine can affect the function and composition of the gut microbiome. Also, research has shown that administration of certain bacterial strains can positively affect stress, anxiety, and depression. Another interaction of gut microbiota and the nervous system is that the gut microbiome can impact brain development by altering gene expression which could impact cognition.
The next part of the paper discusses how the gut microbiome can be relevant to primate ecology and evolution, both in non-human primates and humans. This part specifically discusses feeding ecology and dietary niches, metabolic demands and physiology, disease resistance and health, and cognition, personality, and social behavior. For feeding ecology, in both human and non-human primates, the gut microbiome changes based on the type of food that the organism is eating and might play a role in the ability for these organisms to vary their diet in different environments for different food sources. The metabolic demands and physiology, of both human and non-human primates, interact with the gut microbiome by changing the permeability of the gut to change the nutrient absorption of the host. It is also suggested in the paper that the gut microbiome has an impact on brain size and growth rate due to this changing absorption rate of nutrients where if the microbes increase the absorption rate then that could have led to increased brain size due to the increased energy availability. Amato also discusses the importance of the gut microbiome in disease resistance and health. In both non-human primates and humans, the gut microbiome abundance and diversity can contribute to decreasing infection rates. This is brought up as corresponding to sociality, where taxa who are more social may have high microbial diversity or due to having high microbial diversity sociality is able to be maintained. Finally, Amato discusses non-human primates and human cognition, personality and social behavior in relation to the gut microbiome. Amato cites research done on how changes in the gut microbiome has been shown to affect aggression, anxiety levels, risk-taking, and social hierarchy. Amato also suggests that the human nervous system may have evolved to require microbial exposure for proper social development due to microbial ability to produce neurotransmitters, such as GABA, during early childhood development of the nervous system.
Overall, Amato urges researchers to collaborate and connect gut microbiome research with anthropological research so that we can further our understanding of primate ecology and evolution. Amato ends the paper with a multitude of questions such as: “What constitutes as beneficial or a detrimental gut microbiota?” and “Do different gut microbial stable states provide different fitness effects for the host?” that will assist in furthering the field. However, the author does caution that correlations between the gut microbiome diversity and composition does not indicate causality. She recommends that future research of the gut microbiome complements studies of human ecology and evolution through collaboration to answer questions about how the gut microbiome influences human biology.
This paper is especially relevant to neuroanthropology as it discusses how the gut microbiome could have impacts on sociality, brain size evolution and cognition. From previous readings in the class (Example: Dunbar and Shultz 2007), we have seen how important all of these factors have been in the evolution of primates. My questions for everyone are:
1. How would you design an experiment to test a gut microbiome and brain interaction using neuroanthropological methods?
2. Would you consider abundance or the type of microbiota more important or are both equally important and why?
3. Do you think the gut microbiome is important in primate ecology and evolution? Or do you think that there are other factors that are more relevant to primate ecology and evolution? Why?
by Leah Fontaine
In chapter 9 of The Encultured Brain, Rachel S. Brezis talks about her study looking at religious relationships in autistic youth raised in a Jewish family. She begins her chapter by discussing why her study is important and unique from those around it by pointing out that she is looking at neurological diversity rather than cultural diversity. She soon brings up a paper by Jesse M. Bering on the Theory of Mind, our capability to empathize and understand those around us. A leading theme in autistic research has been that all those on the spectrum lack this Theory of Mind. However, Brezis’s study refutes this and uses religion as her basis for understanding if someone possessed the theory.
Brezis includes a section talking about autism where she details the three main themes when patients are being diagnosed. The first centers around social interaction and any inability when dealing with it. The second is any disruption in language or communication. The third has to do with the need for a routine and therefore an inability to both handle and perform spontaneously. The also brings up one of the leading discoveries in autism research suggests a lack of connectivity throughout the brain as a whole. After looking into several other theories about autism, she does take a step back to remind that the emic perspective of autistic people shouldn’t be silenced in this research. This emic theme continues throughout the rest of her chapter.
Throughout the rest of the chapter, Brezis details and describes her study, but does so in a much more scientific way that in a religious studies way. Her perspective on religion only goes as far as the Abrahamic religions which is a problem in many western studies. She defines her criteria for religion which is helpful in understanding what she is looking for, but it doesn’t mitigate the fact that she doesn’t acknowledge that she is only using the word religion or religious as being god centric. However, she finds that at least two of the autistic young adults that she studies have some form of personal connection with God. She uses this to show that some people with autism do have the ability to have a self and reflect on it despite Bering’s theory that they couldn’t. Brezis only studied those who were high functioning however, and there was little discussion on how wide of a spectrum autism covers.
This chapter was an interesting read and I agree with Brezis’s assertion that this research should be continued, but there were many flaws and components left out of the study that leave gaping holes of understanding. She neglects to give any comparison to how autistic individuals relationships and understanding differ from those in their community. In a religion such a Judaism that doesn’t inforces practice over belief, the rates of how deep others in the community feel on religion should have been included in this study as it was one of the reason for picking it. While I think what Brezis finds is important and should be further looked into, I don’t believe her study has much weight because of the missing components.
- What elements did you think were missing from this study either from a scientific perspective or a cultural one?
- In what ways do you think this could further understanding in autism research and categorization of disabilities?
by Kaitlyn May
The New York Times article, “Germs in Your Gut are Talking to Your Brain,” discusses a newer wave of research exploring the relationship between the microbiome system and the brain. More and more, research in this area is increasing and pointing a critical role of microbiome in neural disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, and others. The hypothesis is that there are a few species of microbes in the gastrointestinal system that play a key role in the development of neural disease and disorders via the release of chemicals that alter how immune cells work in the brain.
This area of research has been overlooked for years, largely because of the difficulties of studying these species in a lab; the majority of the microbes of the human system cannot survive in a petri dish. A key finding—the discovery of a way to sequence DNA from these microbes—served as a catalyst to the development of this area of research. Even then, little thought was given to the influence of the microbiome on the brain. Prior research indicated that the blood-brain barrier acted as a “sift” for the brain, only allowing small molecules to pass through.
The New York Times article goes through seminal studies in this line of research. Each study relates various aspects of the microbiome to a different neurological disorder, such as Alzheimer’s, depression, autism, or seizures. The majority of these studies examine individual strains of bacteria in mouse models. For example, Dr. Costa-Mattioli at Baylor College of Medicine used mouse models of autism to examine how differences in the microbiome affected autism symptomatology. Dr. Costa-Mattioli found that the animals lacked Lactobacillus and adding this strain of bacteria to their diet reduced repetitive and anti-social behaviors. He researches revealed that the bacteria communicated to nerve endings in the intestines, and that these signals would be sent from gut to brain, where they would affect the production of the oxytocin hormone that promotes social bonds.
Similarly, examination of the role of the microbiome in epileptic mice on a ketogenic diet identified a key role of the microbiome. A ketogenic diet has long been a key treatment for individuals with epilepsy, as the diet reduces seizures. When this diet was fed to epileptic mice raised free of microbes, these mice did not see a reduction in seizures. However, if they received stool from mice who were on a ketogenic diet, there seizures were reduced. This was because it is the microbiome which communicates to the brain. The research identified two types of gut bacteria which thrive in mice on a ketogenic diet and are potentially the key bacterium which communicate with neurotransmitters to halt electrical activity in the brain. This research could eventually replace diet therapy for epileptics with a pill containing the bacteria needed to communicate to neurotransmitters in the brain.
The Penninsi article dives deeper into the relationship between the microbiome and depression. This article details a study that identified the absence of several species of gut bacteria in people with depression, namely Coprococcus and Dialister bacteria. These species were not missing in subjects with a high quality of life, and this persisted in participants of different ages, genders, or different antidepressant use. It is unclear whether the absence is a cause and effect, or a confound, but they were able to demonstrate that gut bacteria affected nerve cell function. Unlike the studies in the New York Times article which examined mice, the Penninsi article demonstrates this effect in humans. These findings could eventually influence treatments for depression. Oral probiotics, for example, could begin to be an accepted treatment for individuals with depression.
1. How might this area of research influence your field?
2. How does this research change the way that you think of the brain?
Review of Children Creating Core Properties of Language: Evidence from an Emerging Sign Language in Nicaragua
by Brian Rivera
In this paper the authors present evidence of how a group of deaf children in Nicaragua have adapted sign language to create new expressions and meanings not present in the language beforehand.
As the authors report, Nicaragua didn’t have an educational system that allowed deaf individuals to interact. Because of this, individuals only developed “home signs” to communicate with family members through gestures which were specific to each individual. The introduction of an educational program for the deaf from elementary school through a vocational school allowed for continual contact between deaf students. This changed allowed students to interact both formally in educational setting and also informally outside of class. This newfound space provided a fertile ground for adapting and reshaping the language students used.
To better look at the specific adaptation of the Nicaraguan Sign Language, the paper contrasts narrative descriptions from a Spanish speaker to that of Nicaragua Sign Language Signers. The comparison shows signers using sequential descriptions with multiple distinguishable gestures that contrast with the Spanish speaker’s uniform and holistic gestures. The authors state that this discrete and combinatorial approach to language might have allowed a gain in communicative power for the signers. Additionally, the pieces the signers use as discrete units reveals the primitives understood as grammatical units.
This paper and this cohort of student is an example of the range of cognitive and neurological processes that can thrive and adapt under different circumstances. It is an example of how the brain, and even language, is not a one-size-fits-all tool but rather more like a Swiss army knife with many flexible tools for adaptation.
Senghas, A., Kita, S., & Özyürek, A. (2004). Children creating core properties of language: Evidence from
an emerging sign language in Nicaragua. Science, 305(5691), 1779-1782.
Review: Embodiment theory and education: The foundations of cognition in perception and action (Markus Kiefer & Natalie M. Trumpp)
by Kaitlyn May
Embodiment is currently a ‘hot topic’ within the field of education, and so I was thrilled for it to be a part of this week’s discussions. Although this article takes more of a cognitive science/neuroscience approach rather than anthropological, it places this week’s topic, embodiment, into a cultural environment that we are all well familiar with: school. For this reason, I felt this article would be fruitful for discussion.
In essence, cognitive psychology and neuroscience are beginning to understand the value of experience to learning. The authors begin with an example that even non-educators can easily dissect: a teacher can introduce an unfamiliar instrument by 1) lecturing on the instrument and its characteristics; 2) showing a video of the instrument; or 3) taking the students to an orchestra to physically observe, touch, and hear the instrument. Though each method will support learning, each will do it differently and produce different effects. With each progression, the instruction places more of an emphasis on engaging the students’ senses. The question then becomes, which method supports learning most effectively? For this reason, there is a current debate about whether cognition is embodied: is cognition grounded in our senses, and our actions grounded in our environment? In this way, education is beginning to consider the same topics as neuroanthropology, namely the role of the cultural environment in cognition and the need for viewing the brain as embedded in its environment.
I would like to highlight Box 1 of the article, where the authors discuss methods for testing embodied cognition. Though not a part of the main narrative of the article, the authors briefly discuss methodologies, and this discussion parallels those we have had in class. The authors discuss using traditional neuroscience methodologies—functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalogram (EEG), primarily— in a traditional lab setting as a first step in assessing the validity of embodied cognition theory. Rather than take the methods directly into the environment, the authors propose to instead remain in the laboratory. Participants will complete various cognitive tasks and analytic focus will be given to whether sensory and motor areas of the brain are activated in the task. If the sensory and motor areas are activated, this points to an importance of the environment in guiding cognition. If they do not, it would appear that the need for embodied learning is less critical. To me, this methodology seems neuroanthropological. Though they do not take the research directly into the environment, they use a logical argument to make a first small step towards studying the brain in the wild, while minimizing the issues with taking a neural methodology outside of the lab (i.e. cumbersome equipment, need to control external variables to obtain a strong signal, lack of theoretical knowledge of obtaining a signal outside of a lab).
The authors begin with a discussion of the embodiment of reading and writing. Though reading is typically thought to be purely perceptual, recent research indicates that reading is heavily influenced by writing techniques; the sensory-motor regions activated during writing are also activated during reading. The authors discuss how writing environments have changed through the years; an increasing reliance on technology makes writing on computers and mobile devices much more common even in childhood. Because of this change in environment, the authors propose a need for further research in the embodiment of writing and reading. They present a few recent studies which suggest the importance of handwriting to reading and suggest that the deep reliance on sensory-motor systems in handwriting point to the embodied nature of reading and writing.
The authors then move into a discussion on the embodiment of memory. Because this is something that we have already discussed in class, I will not unpack the logical argument for the embodiment of memory, but instead present the authors’ argument for the importance of considering the embodiment of memory within instructional practice. Within the context of education, understanding the embodiment of memory is important in order to understand best practices to support learning. Research suggests that learning and memory are best supported by action; doing something is more memorable than simply reading something, or even observing somebody else doing something. Because of this, understanding embodiment is critical to educational practice.
The article then transitions into a discussion of the embodiment of conceptual memory for objects. Concepts held in semantic long-term memory include our sensory-motor experiences with the environment. Much like memory for events, conceptual memory for objects appears to deeply rely on sensory-motor experiences. The authors discuss various neuroscience studies pointing to activation of sensory-motor areas during conceptual tasks, such as word learning, language processing, and concept processing. Moreover, the authors point out that conceptual and perceptual processing overlaps in the sensory regions of the brain, both functionally and neuroanatomically. In other words, activation is seen in similar places for both types of processing. The authors conclude this section with evidence from experience-dependent expertise, and the affect this has on the brain. This brief discussion parallels the textbook’s discussion of Capoeira and Taijutsu. The authors provide an example within music. Professional musicians activate auditory association cortex when processing conceptual knowledge about musical instruments, whereas musical novices do not. Further expertise studies confirm this point; repeated interaction with an experience to the level of an expert affects the brain.
The last section of the article discusses the embodiment of conceptual memory for numbers. Because accessing number magnitudes (i.e., the size of the number) relies on a mental number line, there is a visuo-spatial component to numerical cognition. A common example suggesting the embodied nature of numerical cognition is the frequency with which children count with their fingers, and the established importance of this practice to learning. Moreover, these finger counting habits differ by culture and as a product of the language used to describe numbers. In other words, which fingers people use, which hand or hands people use, when finger counting differs as a product of both the geographic location and language—both elements of culture. Though numerical concepts are fairly abstract, they appear to be embodied in perception and action.
Education is beginning to realize that cognition is embodied, a combination of external stimuli and internal states. Kiefer and Trumpp (2012) provide a comprehensive overview of embodiment research within education, exploring topics such as memory, reading, writing, and number concepts. Within the field of education, research on embodiment demonstrates a need to consider the criticality of sensory and motor experiences, but also a need for educators to consider the bidirectional relationship between internal and external states and the individualities of students.
1. Do you find the authors’ proposed methods to be neuroanthropological? Do you see their method as a good first step towards building the field of neuroanthropology, or as disregarding the importance of anthropological methods?
2. What can research of embodiment within the cultural environment of school suggest to us about embodiment in other environments?
3. How does this paper inform neuroanthropology?
Review of Encultured Brain Chapter 9: Embodiment and Male Vitality in Subsistence Societies (Benjamin Campbell)
by Daniel (Josh) Quillen
Chapter 9 of The Encultured Brain is written by Benjamin Campbell and explores the role of physiological status in human embodiment. Campbell starts by defining embodiment not as the non-physiological experiences of the mind and body, but as the neurophysiological experiences one feels via bodily functions centered around a person’s well-being. He explains that basic bodily sensations like arousal, thirst, hunger and temperature travel through the spinal cord to the thalamus, then the right anterior insula, which also receives input from the amygdala, the emotional expressor of the brain. Therefore, he posits the neuronal expression of the Insula reflects the feeling of a bodily status. Because these inputs are based mostly on environmental factors, he believes that people across cultures will experience a similar type of embodiment. In order to study this connection between physiological status and human embodiment he looks at the relationship between testosterone, vitality and feeling of well-being among men.
Campbell establishes that there is a clear link between testosterone levels and feelings of vitality, wellbeing and libido in men. While the neurological basis for the link is unclear, he posits it could be do to the extraneous effects testosterone has on peripheral tissues like promoting blood flow, oxygen intake and overall bodily function. Effects which would be represented in the insula as a feeling of well-being.
In order to test if the effects of testosterone are consistent cross culturally Campbell looks at how men in subsistence societies have a different curve of testosterone levels throughout life then men in industrialized societies. A case study on nomadic Ariaal men in Kenya looks at the connection between these varying levels of testosterone across cultures and its affects on the men’s perceived satisfaction of energy, sex and positive emotions. The findings support the relationship between testosterone and wellbeing found in industrialized societies. This relationship between testosterone and wellbeing promotes the need to look beyond solely cultural ideology surrounding male masculinity and consider the neurophysiological experience men’s bodies undergo as well.
In order to illustrate this point Campbell uses the example of Muelos. A belief throughout the world that semen is connected through the spine to the brain. Across a litany of cultures and time periods there are documented beliefs that this unit of spine-brain-semen represents male vitality and can be transferred between people. These beliefs can be explained via embodied cognition. Feelings of vitality libido and well being are based upon reenactments of memories. Testosterone levels change during periods of physical activity, sex and participates in memory recall. These changes in testosterone can bind the feelings of energy and wellbeing with the feeling and physical sensation of sex. This integrated connection involves the spine, brain and semen as one experience. Campbell illustrates that testosterone is not the direct cause of the experience of male vitality, but the effects testosterone on the body and the brain in conjunction environmental experience and stimuli.
Campbell poses many questions to further this understanding of male vitality. Because testosterone has been shown to have a clear affect upon on levels of male embodiment in both the mind and body, He believes the most pressing question is are these elaborate beliefs like Muelos surrounding male vitality due to the physiological experiences of the body, or a common cultural ideology among societies with similar life styles? While Campbell does not address female embodiment in order to simplify his study it is an important question to follow through with. How do varying testosterone levels affect female wellbeing and how is this different the men? Are there other physiological factors with more or less influence on both or either men or women in respect to embodiment? Despite these understandable omissions his studies illustrate beautifully the connection between neurophysiological factors and their influence in sociocultural events. These connections are exactly what neuroanthropology is looking for and pushes neuroanthropologists to ask what other sociocultural experiences are influenced so strongly by neurophysiological factors? How do these experiences influence the neurophysiological factor’s expression and importance?
by Brian Rivera
The main theme of this paper is the proper way to understand what we mean by feeling and thinking. Feeling and thinking have usually represented as opposites. However, in this paper Worthman presents evidence of how deeply interconnected feeling and thinking are and argues for acknowledgment of the contribution of emotions to the anthropological understanding of cognition and well being of individuals.
The feeling thinking divide is characterized through the ethos-eidos distinction where ethos is the affective emotional landscape of members of a community (emotional landscape) and eidos is the cognitive-propositional (knowledge structure). This distinction carries Cartesian dualist assumptions characteristic of the Western/Enlightenment tradition that are at odds with some recent findings from neurobiology and neurology. Studies, like those in the work of Antonio Damasio, show that feeling and thinking are deeply intertwined in the nervous system and that in fact it is not clear where one begins and the other one ends. Emotion is thus integral to cognition and serves to mediate or give valence to a landscape of arbitrary information.
Worthman then uses this new conceptualization of the emotion-cognition system to reanalyze the relationship between the individual and the socio cultural landscape. To do this Worthman draws on the concept of embodiment drawing on fields of research that aim to ground theories of human capacity and behavior in the body. Culture shapes the body of the individual and the individual shapes culture through its body. This is what Worthman states is the dual nature of embodiment.
Through the lens of the dual nature of embodiment, the influence of emotion on culture is more easily understood. The biological states influence emotion which influences the individual’s body and experience which in turn influences culture and this influence runs backwards from culture to the individual’s biological states. Worthman then goes on to provide examples of this dual relationship like how temperament affects development in children and rhesus monkeys and how hardship and hostility affect health. From these case studies, five main points are highlighted about dual embodiment biocultural model:
Worthman concludes the chapter by providing examples of how this biocultural model can inform discussion of the role of emotion in psychological anthropology.
The scope and scale of the chapter is impressive. Throughout, we discuss, conscious and unconscious processes from the scale of neurotransmitters to that of a society. A question that emerged while reading the chapter is whether the model makes us more optimistic than we should be, whether such a linear model will make us overlook unknowns yet unknown. While it is possible to draw a link between biological states and social environment, the complexity of such relationship is so massive that one must safeguard against finding a signal in the noise. It is possible for individuals or even cultures as a whole to mischaracterize (or misinterpret) the nature and role of emotions and biological states. The different sources people throughout history have attributed to disease (both physical and mental) speak to this misattribution. Additionally, although easily recognized, “well-being” is difficult to define and measure and thus difficult to attribute to the individual, the culture, or the dynamic between the two. This is not to undermine the usefulness of the model, but simply to highlight that there is a real challenge in moving from the statement “that” biological states have a relation to social environment to describing “how” they relate to each other.
by Moe Prince
In “Holistic Humor: Coping with Breast Cancer” Kathryn Bouskill discusses how humor is used within breast cancer survivor support groups as a method of coping. She does a great job of addressing how this tactic is used socially, cognitively, linguistically, and neurologically. This was done through an ethnographic study of a support center located next to the public hospital where many of the survivors were treated. This included semi-structured interviews and participant observation. The support center studied held both planned and unplanned group sessions where often times the group of women who participated would be laughing and cracking jokes about their situations for the entirety of the meeting. Since this was done in an urban area, she also was able to collect testimonies from women of different races, ages, backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses. Though they were all different, humor helped them band together in the face of an extremely stressful situation.
Though breast cancer is an extremely well broadcasted disease today, it used to be highly stigmatized. Through the work of political, feminist, and corporate groups awareness skyrocketed and has given many women more control over their treatment and provided them with large amounts of public support. Though this push has taken away most of the shame associated with a breast cancer diagnosis, it hasn’t done much with providing a way for survivors to cope or give them an outlet to openly discuss the difficulties they face. Support centers have been instrumental in giving just that. Bouskill used the term ”cancer world” to describe the new experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer. When someone is knew to “cancer world”, other survivors are instrumental in helping them understand these new transitions and how to deal with the stress. That’s where humor comes in. These women use humor to bond over the non-life threatening aspect of their new lives like loosing their femininity. It creates stronger social bonds because they all understand what one another is going through since they’ve been through it themselves.
Cognitively, humor is used to separate oneself from the stresses of breast cancer. By making jokes about their situation, they are in a scary situation and taking back control. Humor allows them to acknowledge the hardships and decide that they don’t define them. They can use it as a type of defiance for the situation they were forced in to. In a neurological setting, survivors describe humor as a mental break, even though something of the opposite is actually occurring. Humor is “identifiable within neurological centers of positive emotion that allow the mind to perceive an emotional reward” (Bouskill, 228). Women who use humor to cope have showed signs of lower blood pressure and the social support they gain is associated with lower concentrations of cortisol. Complaining about their situation, on the other hand, is associated with high levels of cortisol.
Linguistically, humor provides survivors with the opportunity to share their experience and help new comers to the “cancer world” do the same. They teach each other coping mechanisms and provide support that doesn’t limit itself to the support center. Many women are able to build lifelong friendships and support systems through this process. Humor can also be a bit exclusive as many people who have not experienced having breast cancer feel like it would be inappropriate for them to laugh at the struggles faced and can feel very uncomfortable when the jokes are made.
Bouskill did a wonderful job of looking at a variety of aspects and influences when it comes to humor. She believes that it’s a disservice to focus on just one without the others since it’s a very complex web leading to a multitude of results. Some questions that I did have while reading this article dealt with the cultural aspect. Humor worked really well in the setting studied, but if this study were applied to a different culture or was conducted in another country, would humor still be as effective? Bouskill described how only some parts of the disease were found humorous, whereas subjects like death and the possibility of passing on genes to loved ones were not. How are these subjects addressed and coped with? For survivors who don’t find their situations humorous, how do they cope?
by Zach Obaji
Chapter 5 in the Encultured Brain discusses Memory and Medicine, and memory plays a crucial role in medical decision making. Author Cameron Hay proposes a “neurological model of knowledge that compares how sociocultural traditions and neurological processes co-create distinctive possibilities for remembering (Hay, 142). After conducting fieldwork on coping and the medical traditions of the Sasak people in Indonesia, Hay conducted research in Southern California and to study the different neurological basis of memory in the American medical tradition compared to the Sasaks. The bicultural studies of medical traditions in America and Indonesia reveal significantly different practices in patient care, and both traditions have completely different neurological processes that work differently within the context of memory and healing. The chapter also discusses the four important memory systems along with their neural structures that correlate to the specific type of memory used in medical traditions.
The four memory systems that are important to medical traditions are episodic, semantic, procedural, and working memory. Episodic memories are memories of autobiographical events that can be explicitly stated or conjured. A physician who remembers examining his patient would be an example of episodic memory (Hay, 146). Secondly, semantic memory consists of general facts and knowledge such as the fact that acetaminophen is an analgesic. Episodic and semantic memories are both explicit and declarative, which enables content knowledge (Hay, 146). The third important memory system involves the memory of learned motor behaviors and skills that are unconscious—procedural memory. Imagine a surgeon who performs an appendectomy. The surgeon is likely using procedural memory, removing this vestigial organ is a smooth operation that the surgeon has likely performed hundreds of times. Lastly, working memory “involves allocating attention and linguistic resources for second or minutes to address problems at hand [that] may be relevant in both healers’ conscious efforts to address unfamiliar illnesses (Hay, 147).
The three critical neural structures that are important to these memories involve the hippocampus, basolateral amygdala, and the basal ganglia. The hippocampus is found in the medial temporal lobe, and it is essential for episodic memory. Also located within the medial temporal lobe, the basolateral amygdala is an important structure that makes up important nuclei. Stress responses stimulate these nuclei, and the amygdala plays an important role in “episodic and effortful semantic memory recall” (Hay, 147). The basal ganglia is important to procedural memory, which catalyzes memory processes independent of the hippocampus.
Hay compares and contrasts the American medical traditions to the those of the Sasak people in Indonesia. The Sasak medical tradition revolves around memory precision that is central to their medical practice; these potent “memorized formulate” are almost always retained from oral knowledge and are passed down from ritualized distribution. The knowledge retained by the Sasak are “primarily tightly constrained, episodic learning dependent on the hippocampus, medial temporal lobes, and the prefrontal cortex (Hay, 155). The knowledge within the American medical tradition differs greatly from that of the Sasak. American medical knowledge is obtained through not only through a scientific basis, but are also further refined from clinical experience. Hay describes the American medical knowledge as “encoded semantically, episodically, and procedurally and over time reconsolidated into schemas that can be accessed through the hippocampus as well as through the basal ganglia (155). As we can see, the Sasak medical tradition differs significantly from that of the American tradition. However, neither system is wrong, just extremely different.